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Miller was supposed to have the next claim, and I should think that
Miller is the one man in the world who might disunite the strongest
party on earth."

"Disunite it? I should think he would disperse it to the four corners
of the world!" she exclaimed.

The butler announced luncheon. She rose to her feet.

"I cannot tell you," he said, with a little sigh of relief, as he held
open the door for her, "how thankful I am that I happened to find you
alone."



CHAPTER II

Luncheon was a pleasant, even a luxurious meal, for the Woolhanger chef
had come from the ducal household, but it was hedged about with
restraints which fretted Tallente and rendered conversation
monosyllabic. It was served, too, in the larger dining room, where the
table, reduced to its smallest dimensions, still seemed to place a
formidable distance between himself and his hostess. A manservant stood
behind Lady Jane's chair, and the butler was in constant attendance at
the sideboard. Under such circumstances, conversation became precarious
and was confined chiefly to local topics. When they left the room for
their coffee, they found it served in the hall. Tallente, however,
protested vigorously.

"Can't we have it served in your sitting room, please?" he begged. "It
is impossible to talk to you here. There are people in the background
all the time, and you might have callers."

She hesitated for a moment but yielded the point. With the door closed
and the coffee tray between them, Tallente drew a sigh of relief.

"I hope you don't think I am a nuisance," he said bluntly, "but, after
all, I came down from London purposely to see you."

"I am not so vain as to believe that," she answered.

"It is nevertheless true and I think that you do believe it. What have
I done that you should all of a sudden build a fence around yourself?"

"That may be," she replied, smiling, "for my own protection. I can
assure you that I am not used to tête-a-tête luncheons with guests who
insist upon having their own way in everything."

"I wonder if it is a good thing for you to be so much your own
mistress," he reflected.

"You must judge by results. I always have been - at least since I
decided to lead this sort of life."

"Why have you never married?" he asked her, a little abruptly.

"We discussed that before, didn't we? I suppose because the right man
has never asked me."

"Perhaps," he ventured, "the right man isn't able to."

"Perhaps there isn't any right man at all - perhaps there never will be."

The minutes ticked away. The room, with its mingled perfumes and
pleasant warmth, its manifold associations with her wholesome and
orderly life, seemed to have laid a sort of spell upon him. She was
leaning back in her corner of the lounge, her hands hanging over the
sides, her eyes fixed upon the burning log. She herself was so
abstracted that he ventured to let his eyes dwell upon her, to trace the
outline of her slim but powerful limbs, to admire her long, delicate
feet and hands, the strong womanly face, with its kindly mouth and soft,
almost affectionate eyes. Tallente, who for the last ten years had
looked upon the other sex as non-existent, crushed into an uninteresting
negation for him owing to his wife's cold and shadowy existence, twice
within the last few months found himself pass in a different way under
the greatest spell in life. Nora Miall had provoked his curiosity, had
reawakened a dormant sense of sex without attracting it towards herself.
Jane brought to him again, from the first moment he had seen her, that
half-wistful recrudescence of the sentiment of his earlier days. He was
amazed to find how once more in her presence that sentiment had taken to
itself fire and life, how different a thing it was from those first
dreams of her, which had seemed like an echo from the period of his
poetry-reading youth. Of all women in the world she seemed to him now
the most desirable. That she was unattainable he was perfectly willing
to admit. Even then he had not the strength to deny himself the
doubtful joys of imagination with regard to her. He revelled in her
proximity because of the pleasure it gave him, heedless or reckless of
consequences. Between them, in vastly different degrees, these two
women seemed to have brought him back something of his youth.

The silence became noticeable, led him at last into a certain measure of
alarm.

"Lady Jane," he ventured, "have I said anything to offend you?"

"Of course not," she answered, looking at him kindly.

"You are very silent. Are you afraid that I am going to attempt to make
love to you?"

She was startled in earnest this time. She sat up and looked at him
disapprovingly. There was a touch of the old hauteur in her tone.

"How can you be so ridiculous!" she exclaimed.

"Would it be ridiculous of me?"

"Does it occur to you," she asked, "that I am the sort of person to
encourage attentions from a man who is not free to offer them?"

"I had forgotten that," he admitted, quite frankly. "Of course, I see
the point. I have a wife, even though of her own choosing she does not
count."

"She exists."

"So do I."

Jane broke into a little laugh.

"Now we are both being absurd," she declared, "and I don't want to be
and I don't want you to be. Of course, you can't look at things just as
I do. You belong to a very large world. You spend your life destroying
obstacles. All my people, you know," she went on, "look upon me as
terribly emancipated. They think my mild socialism and my refusal to
listen to such a thing as a chaperon most terribly improper, but at
heart, you know, I am still a very conventional person. I have torn
down a great many conventions, but there are some upon which I cannot
bring myself even to lay my fingers."

"Perhaps it wouldn't be you if you did," he reflected.

"Perhaps not."

"And yet," he went on, "tell me, are you wholly content here? Your
life, in its way, is splendid. You live as much for the benefit of
others as for yourself. You are encouraging the right principle amongst
your yeomen and your farmers. You are setting your heel upon
feudalism - you, the daughter of a race who have always demanded it. You
live amongst these wonderful surroundings, you grow into the bigness of
them, nature becomes almost your friend. It is one of the most
dignified and beautiful lives I ever knew for a woman, and yet - are you
wholly content?"

"I am not," she admitted frankly. "And listen," she went on, after a
moment's pause, "I will show you how much I trust you, how much I really
want you to understand me. I am not completely happy because I know
perfectly well that it is unnatural to live as I do. If I met the man I
could care for and who cared for me, I should prefer to be married." She
had commenced her speech with the faintest tinge of colour burning
underneath the wholesome sunburn of her cheeks. She had spoken boldly
enough, even though towards the end of her sentence her voice had grown
very low. When she had finished, however, it seemed as though the
memory of her words were haunting her, as though she suddenly realised
the nakedness of them. She buried her face in her hands, and he saw her
shoulders heave as though she were sobbing. He stood very close and for
the first time he touched her. He held the fingers of her hand gently
in his. "Dear Lady Jane," he begged, "don't regret even for a moment
that you have spoken naturally. If we are to be friends, to be anything
at all to one another, it is wonderful of you to tell me so sweetly what
women take such absurd pains to conceal. . . . When you look up, let
us start our friendship all over again, only before you do, listen to my
confession. If fifteen years could be rolled off my back and I were
free, it isn't political ambition I should look to for my guiding star.
I should have one far greater, far more wonderful desire." The fingers
he held were gently withdrawn. She drew herself up. Her forehead was
wrinkled questioningly. She forced a smile. "You would be very
foolish," she said, "if you tried to part with one of those fifteen
years. Every one has brought you experiences Every one has helped to
make you what you are."

"And yet - " he began.

He broke off abruptly in his speech. The hall seemed suddenly full of
voices. Jane rose to her feet at the sound of approaching footsteps.
She made the slightest possible grimace, but Tallente was oppressed with
a suspicion that the interruption was not altogether unwelcome to her.

"Some of my cousins and their friends from Minehead," she said. "I am
so sorry. I expect they have lost the hunt and come here for tea."

The room was almost instantly invaded by a company of light-hearted,
noisy young people, flushed with exercise and calling aloud for tea,
intimates all of them, calling one another by their Christian names,
speaking a jargon which sounded to Tallente like another language. He
stayed for a quarter of an hour and then took his leave. Of the
newcomers, no one seemed to have an idea who he was, no one seemed to
care in the least whether he remained or went, He was only able to
snatch a word of farewell with Jane at the door. She shook her head at
his whispered request.

"I am afraid not," she answered. "How could I? Besides, there is no
telling when this crowd will go. You are sure you won't let me send you
home?"

Tallente shook his head.

"The walk will do me good," he said. "I get lazy in town. But you are
sure - "

The butler was holding open the door. Two of the girls had suddenly
taken possession of Jane. She shook her head slightly.

"Good-by," she called out. "Come and see me next time you are down."

Tallente was suddenly his old self, grave and severe. He bowed stiffly
in response to the little chorus of farewells and followed the butler
down the hall. The latter, who was something of a politician, did his
best to indicate by his manner his appreciation of Tallente's position.

"You are sure you won't allow me to order a car, sir?" he said, with his
hand upon the door. "I know her ladyship would be only too pleased.
It's a long step to the Manor, and if you'll forgive my saying so, sir,
you've a good deal on your shoulders just now."

Tallente caught a glimpse of the bleak moorland and of the distant
hills, wrapped in mist. The idea of vigorous exercise, however,
appealed to him. He shook his head.

"I'd rather walk, thanks," he said.

"It's a matter of five miles, sir."

Tallente smiled. There was something in the fresh, cold air wonderfully
alluring after the atmosphere of the room he had quitted. He turned his
coat collar up and strode down the avenue.



CHAPTER III

Tallente reached the Manor about an hour and a half later, mud-splashed,
wet and weary. Robert followed him into the study and mixed him a
whisky and soda.

"You've walked all the way back, sir?" he remarked, with a note of
protest in his tone.

"They offered me a car," Tallente admitted. "I didn't want it. I came
down for fresh air and exercise."

"Two very good things in their way, sir, but easily overdone," was the
mild rejoinder. "These hills are terrible unless you're at them all the
time."

Tallente drank his whisky and soda almost greedily and felt the benefit
of it, although he was still weary. He had walked for five miles in the
company of ghosts and their faces had been grey. Perhaps, too, it was
the passing of his youth which brought this tiredness to his limbs.

"Robert," he confessed abruptly, "I was a fool to come down here at
all."

"It's dreary at this time of the year unless you've time to shoot or
hunt, sir. Why not motor to Bath to-morrow? I could wire for rooms,
and I could drive you up to London the next day. Motoring's a good way
of getting the air, sir, and you won't overtire yourself."

"I'll think of it in the morning," his master promised.

"My wife has found the silver, sir," Robert announced, as he turned to
leave the room, "and I managed to get a little fish. That, with some
soup, a pheasant, and a fruit tart, we thought - "

"I shall be alone, Robert," Tallente interrupted. "There is no one
coming for dinner."

The man's disappointment was barely concealed. He sighed as he took up
the tray.

"Very good, sir. Your clothes are all out. I'll turn on the hot water
in the bathroom."

Tallente threw off his rain and mud-soaked clothes, bathed, changed and
descended to the dining room just as the gong sounded. Robert was in
the act of moving the additional place from the little round dining
table which he had drawn up closer to the wood fire, but his master
stopped him.

"You can let those things be," he directed. "Take away the champagne,
though. I shan't want that."

Robert bowed in silent appreciation of his master's humour and began
ladling out soup at the sideboard. Tallente's lips were curled a
little, partly in self-contempt, with perhaps just a dash of self-pity.
It had come to this, then, that he must dine with fancies rather than
alone, that this tardily developed streak of sentimentality must be
ministered to or would drag him into the depths of dejection. He began
to understand the psychology of its late appearance. Stella's
artificial companionship had kept his thoughts imprisoned, fettered with
the meshes of an instinctive fidelity, and had driven him sedulously to
the solace of work and books. Now that it was removed and he was to all
practical purposes a free man, they took their own course. His life had
suddenly become a natural one, and all that was human in him responded
to the possibilities of his solitude, He had had as yet no time to
experience the relief, to appreciate his liberty, before he was face to
face with this new loneliness. To-night, he thought, as he looked at
the empty place and remembered his wistful, almost diffident invitation,
the solitude was almost unendurable. If she had only understood how
much it meant, surely she would have made some effort, would not have
been content with that half-embarrassed, half-doubtful shake of the
head! In the darkened room, with the throb of the sea and the crackling
of the lop in his ears, and only Robert's silent form for company, he
felt a sudden craving for the things of his youth, for another side of
life, the restaurants, the bright eyes of women, the whispered words of
pleasant sentiment, the perfume shaken into the atmosphere they created,
the low music in the background "I beg your pardon, sir," Robert said in
his ear, "your soup. Gertrude has taken such pains with the dinner,
sir," he added diffidently. "If I might take the liberty of suggesting
it, it would be as well if you could eat something." Tallente took up
his spoon. Then they both started, they both turned to the window. A
light had flashed into the room, a low, purring sound came from outside.

"A car, sir!" Robert exclaimed, his face full of pleasurable
anticipation. "If you'll excuse me, I'll answer the door. Might it be
the lady, after all, sir?" He hurried out. Tallente rose slowly to his
feet. He was listening intently. The thing wasn't possible, he told
himself. It wasn't possible! Then he heard a voice in the hall.
Robert threw the door open and announced in a tone of triumph -

"Lady Jane Partington, sir."

She came towards him, smiling, self-possessed, but a little
interrogative. He had a lightning-like impression of her beautiful
shoulders rising from her plain black gown, her delightfully easy walk,
the slimness and comeliness and stateliness of her.

"I know that I ought to be ashamed of myself for coming after I had told
you I couldn't," she said. "It will serve me right if you've eaten all
the dinner, but I do hope you haven't."

"I had only just sat down," he told her, as he and Robert held her
chair, "and I think that this is the kindest action you ever performed
in your life."

Robert, his face glowing with satisfaction, had become ubiquitous. She
had scarcely subsided into her chair before he was offering her a
cocktail on a silver tray, serving Tallente with his forgotten glass, at
the sideboard ladling out soup, out of the room and in again, bringing
back the rejected bottle of champagne.

"You will never believe that I am a sane person again," she laughed.
"After you had gone, and all those foolish children had departed, I felt
it was quite impossible to sit down and dine alone. I wanted so much to
come and I realised how ridiculous it was of me not to have accepted at
once. At the last moment I couldn't bear it any longer, so I rushed
into the first gown I could find, ordered out my little coupé and here I
am."

"The most welcome guest who ever came to a lonely man," he assured her.
"A moment ago, Robert was complaining because I was sending my soup
away. Now I shall show him what Devon air can do."

The champagne was excellent, and the dinner over which Gertrude had
taken so much care was after all thoroughly appreciated. Tallente,
suddenly and unexpectedly light-hearted, felt a keen desire to entertain
his welcome guest, and remembered his former successes as a raconteur.
They pushed politics and all personal matters far away. He dug up
reminiscences of his class in foreign capitals, when he had first
entered the Diplomatic Service, betrayed his intimate knowledge of the
Florence which they both loved, of Paris, where she had studied and
which he had seen under so many aspects, - Paris, the home of beauty and
fashion before the war; torn with anguish and horror during its earlier
stages; grim, steadfast and sombre in the clays of Verdun; wildly, madly
exultant when wreathed and decorated with victory. There were so many
things to talk about for two people of agile brains come together late
in life. They had moved into the study and Lady Jane was sealed in his
favourite easy-chair, sipping her coffee and some wonderful green
chartreuse, before a single personal note had crept into the flow of
their conversation.

"It can't be that I am in Devonshire," she said. "I never realised how
much like a succession of pictures conversation can be. You seem to
remind me so much of things which I have kept locked away just because
I have had no one to share them with."

"You are in Devonshire all right," he answered, smiling. "You will
realise it when you turn out of my avenue and face the hills. You see,
you've dropped down from the fairyland of 'up over' to the nesting place
of the owls and the gulls."

"Nine hundred feet," she murmured. "Thank heavens for my forty
horsepower engine! I want to see the sea break against your rocks," she
went on, as she took the cigarette which he passed her. "There used to
be a little path through your plantation to a place where you look
sheer down. Don't you remember, you took me there the first time I
came to see you, in August, and I have never forgotten it."

He rang the bell for her coat. The night, though windy and dark, was
warm. Stars shone out from unexpected places, pencil-like streaks of
inky-black clouds stretched menacingly across the sky. The wind came
down from the moors above with a dull boom which seemed echoed by the
waves beating against the giant rocks. The beads of the bare trees
among which they passed were bent this way and that, and the few
remaining leaves rustled in vain resistance, or, yielding to the
irresistible gusts, sailed for a moment towards the skies, to be dashed
down into the ever-growing carpet. The path was narrow and they walked
in single file, but at the bend he drew level with her, walking on the
seaward side and guiding her with his fingers upon her arm. Presently
they reached the little circular space where rustic seats had been
placed, and leaned over a grey stone wall.

There was nothing of the midsummer charm about the scene to-night.
Sheer below them the sea, driven by tide and wind, rushed upon the huge
masses of rock or beat direct upon the cave-indented cliffs. The spray
leapt high into the air, to be caught up by the wind in whirlpools,
little ghostly flecks, luminous one moment and gone forever the next.
Far away across the pitchy waters they could see at regular intervals a
line of white where the breakers came rushing in, here and there the
agitated lights of passing steamers; opposite, the twin flares on the
Welsh coast, and every sixty seconds the swinging white illumination
from the Lynmouth Lighthouse, shining up from behind the headland. Jane
slipped one hand through his arm and stood there, breathless,
rapturously watchful. "This is wonderful," she murmured. "It is the
one thing we have always lacked at Woolhanger. We get the booming of
the wind - wonderful it is, too, like the hollow thunder of guns or the
quick passing of an underground army - but we miss this. I feel,
somehow, as though I knew now why it tears past us, uprooting the very
trees that stand in its way. It rushes to the sea. What a meeting!"
Her hand tightened upon his arm as a great wave broke direct upon the
cliff below and a torrent of wind, rushing through the trees and
downwards, caught the spray and scattered it around them and high over
their heads.

"We humans," he whispered, "are taught our lesson."

"Do we need it?" she asked, with sudden fierceness. "Do you believe
that because some mysterious power imposes restraint upon us, the
passion isn't there all the while?"

She was suddenly in his arms, the warm wind shrieking about them, the
darkness thick and soft as a mantle. Only he saw the anguished
happiness in her eyes as they closed beneath his kisses.

"One moment out of life," she faltered, "one moment!"

Another great wave shook the ground beneath them, but she had drawn
away. She struggled for breath. Then once more her hand was thrust
through his arm. He knew so well that his hour was over and he
submitted.

"Back, please," she whispered, "back through the plantation - quietly."

An almost supernatural instinct divined and acceded to her desire for
silence. So they walked slowly back towards the long, low house whose
faint lights flickered through the trees. She leaned a little upon him,
the hand which she had passed through his arm was clasped in his. Only
the wind spoke. When at last they were en the terraces she drew a long
breath.

"Dear friend," she said softly, "see how I trust you. I leave in your
keeping the most precious few minutes of my life."

"This is to be the end, then?" he faltered.

"It is not we who have decided that," she answered. "It is just what
must be. You go to a very difficult life, a very splendid one. I have
my smaller task. Don't unfit me for it. We will each do our best."

Her servant was waiting by the car. His figure loomed up through the
darkness. "You will come into the house for a few minutes?" he begged
hoarsely. She shook her head.

"Why? Our farewells have been spoken. I leave you - so."

The man had disappeared behind the bonnet of the car. She grasped his
hand with both of hers and brushed it lightly with her lips. Then she
gilded away. A moment later he was listening to her polite speeches as
she leaned out of the coupé. "My dinner was too wonderful," she said.
"Do make my compliments to that dear Robert and his wife. Good luck to
you, and don't rob us poor landowners of every penny we possess in
life."

The car was gone in the midst of his vague little response. He watched
the lights go flashing up the hillside, crawling around the hairpin
corners, up until it seemed that they had reached the black clouds and
were climbing into the heavens. Then he turned back into the house.
The world was still a place for dreams.



CHAPTER IV

Tallente sat in the morning train, on his way to town, and on the other
side of the bare ridge at which he gazed so earnestly Lady Jane and
Segerson had brought their horses to a standstill half way along a rude
cart track which led up to a farmhouse tucked away in the valley.

"This is where James Crockford's land commences," Segerson remarked,
riding up to his companion's side. "Look around you. I think you will
admit that I have not exaggerated."

She frowned thoughtfully. On every side were evidences of poor farming
and neglect. The untrimmed hedges had been broken down in many places
by cattle. A plough which seemed as though it had been embedded there
for ages, stood in the middle of a half-ploughed field. Several tracts
of land which seemed prepared for winter sowing were covered with
stones. The farmhouse yard, into which they presently passed, was dirty
and untidy. Segerson leaned down and knocked on the door with his whip.
After a short delay, a slatternly-looking woman, with tousled fair hair,
answered the summons.


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